The Edgartown Fire Department is celebrating its 175th anniversary, and so, not for the first time, firefighters from Edgartown will have a prominent place in the Fourth of July parade planned for Monday.
It was the Edgartown fire department that hosted the first Fourth of July celebration in town, in 1844. The party included a lot of local pomp, a parade, plenty of flag-waving, patriotism and a dinner.
In addition to marching Monday in their formal attire as they have done every year in the past, they’ll have their 1855 Button hand tub rolling along the parade route, pulled by a crew of a dozen. The 23-foot tub will be loaded with water. With a short hose and a lot of manpower, the crew could possibly use the pump more than once to cool the air along the way.
As in the past, the firemen have the ability to pump up a pretty good stream. The tub is the oldest working fire apparatus on the Vineyard, and it is one of at least a hundred around New England that still works.
The department also will share their recently restored 1927 Mack Hose Company No. 1 pumper. The truck holds an honorary position and hasn’t been in the parade for three years. It will be accompanied in the parade by the department’s stalwart 1952 pumper.
But what the parade goers won’t see is the amount of spirit that has arisen over the last two years for the department’s Fire Museum, back at the Pease’s Point Way fire station, where there now is a new home for both the truck and the Button tub.
Earlier this year, the firemen, with the help of paid and volunteer labor, completed a large, single-floor fire museum that houses both, as well as another truck. The fire museum is the home for the 175 years of stories and memorabilia, too.
Andrew Kelly, president of the Edgartown Firemen’s Association, said he has enjoyed the ride, watching what first was a simple idea grow like, well, like fire.
It began with many pieces coming together. First was the possibility of sharing the Button tub, which is owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The firemen have maintained it and sent it along on most Fourth of July parades going back to the 1960s. Not too long ago, the firemen approached the museum and made the offer to store the antique, if they could construct an appropriate building to share it with others. They already had a one-room museum, to store and share two fire trucks. The floor area measured 28 by 30 feet.
They got the approval to borrow the relic on a long-term loan from the museum. Now an adjoining room, about 40 by 30 feet, houses the Button tub, with ample space to spare for exhibition. They wanted to bring out fire fighting equipment and paraphernalia going back generations, from old tools, hats and nozzles and pictures. The walls are made of pine board, reminiscent of the way fire stations were built years ago.
Mr. Kelly said that once word of the museum got out among the members of the department, people started donating keepsakes. “We received a couple of fire buckets that go back more than a century,” Mr. Kelly said.
The museum exhibition space is climate-controlled, which gives the 1855 Button tub the best home it has ever had. Plus, the museum-quality site offers a safe place to store the extensive collection of historic items. In addition to storing and exhibiting the 1927 pumper, there is its replacement, a 1952 Mack pumper.
“This is a building dedicated to the generations of firemen that have worked on the department for all those years. It must be thousands of people,” Mr. Kelly said. He figures there are at least 55 to 65 members on the fire department in a given year. Look back over the years and that number grows to be considerable, not to mention those town residents and their relatives who were impacted by a dangerous fire.
“The museum is a way to pay tribute to all those past and the present members,” Mr. Kelly said. “It is a way to pay tribute to the community, too. The history of the department is about an extensive relationship with the town.”
It is hard now to put a price on the value of the skill, work and materials put into the museum. A lot was donated. Mr. Kelly said much of the volunteer effort came from the firemen themselves. They did hire a firm to shingle the roof, but a lot of local contractors stepped up and helped in various ways. To fund the effort, they also received $26,000 from the Edgartown Community Preservation Committee in this past year, through the vote of the town.
The association is seeking an additional $50,000 to complete their exhibition showcase area. They are going to raise the money in big and small ways — through cocktail fundraisers this summer, plus selling T-shirts at the foot of Main street on most summer weekend evenings. An association annual appeal letter will go out later this month.
They want to add shelving and display cases for the memorabilia they’ve got. “One side of the room will be dedicated to educating children in fire safety and the history of the department,” Mr. Kelly said.
On Sunday, June 19, the department held an afternoon ice cream social at the museum to share with the community the results of their winter endeavors. The Button tub was set up in the museum, placed nicely in the center of the room. There were displays, photographs on the wall. One of the large black and white pictures was taken in 1950 and showed the former fire and police station, when it was located at Church street, the site of today’s visitor center.
The 1927 Mack pumper was recently restored by John Gaspar, of Gaspar Automatic Restoration, in Bloomfield, Conn. On Sunday Mr. Gaspar drove the truck around the yard and demonstrated to a small audience how the truck can be hand-started from the front, as it was done 80 years ago. A hand crank in the front of the truck requires one good pull; it started right up.
At the first Fourth of July parade in Edgartown, in 1844, records show that the day began with “ringing of church bells and firing of a cannon at 8 a.m.; and the hoisting of flags aboard vessels in port.” At one o’clock, the company, “dressed in uniform consisting of white pants, red shirts, trimmed and glazed hats and appropriate badges, then paraded the Torrent around the village,” according to an old report of the celebration.
The story was one of many written by Stephen Vancour for the Dukes County Historical Society’s Intelligencer in August 1993. Mr. Vancour devoted several paragraphs to the first Fourth of July celebration. Coincidentally, that inaugural firemen’s Fourth of July celebration, finished with a large dinner served at the Thomas Cooke House, the site and home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
The Edgartown Fire Museum will be open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, though donations to help with the continued work is welcome. T-shirts will be available of course; each one is $15.
Contributions to the Edgartown Firemen’s Association are tax deductible (they are a 501(c)3 organization). Checks should be made out to the association and marked “Museum Fund.” Send it to P.O. Box 737, Edgartown, MA 02539.